Every worker should be able to decide whether union membership is right for them. And workers who do not want union representation should be able to negotiate directly with their employer. These principles are celebrated every year during National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which runs from August 19-25 this year. During this week, over 100 organizations promote pro-worker freedom reforms and educate workers on their rights.
NEFW takes on special importance this year. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court freed all public employees from forced union dues payments. Now, millions of public workers in 22 states can no longer have agency fees, also called forced union dues, deducted from their wages against their will.
But the decision went further than just freeing workers from paying union dues as a condition of employment. In Janus v. AFSCME, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority:
“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
This section of the opinion results in a major change in how union dues are collected. Previous to the Janus decision, even in states with right-to-work laws, workers had to opt out of paying dues. The burdensome requirements unions imposed on workers who sought to opt out of dues was a driving force in the creation of NEFW. To say the least, opting-out of union dues is easier said than done. To educate workers on their rights on how to opt out of union membership, the Mackinac Center, Freedom Foundation, Illinois Policy Institute, and many other organizations have setup websites to make opting out easy.
With the Janus decision, workers now must choose to opt in to paying union dues. As such, each individual worker must provide “clear and compelling evidence” that they are allowing dues to be deducted from their paycheck. This reform rightfully places workers in control of how they spend their hard-earned wages.
This change in policy means that states and public-sector unions must immediately stop collecting dues payments from both members and non-members unless they have signed a new dues authorization form after Janus was decided on July 27, 2018.
Some states and public-sector unions have issued guidance or letters notifying non-union members that forced union dues will no longer be deducted from their paychecks. Yet, this has not stopped other unions from using deception and schemes to keep non-union members paying dues.
The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Washington state, details how the California Teachers Association tried to stifle the Janus rights of an employee at the UCLA health system.
This UCLA employee called her union after the Janus decision to ensure that dues payments would stop immediately. Soon thereafter, she mailed an opt-out letter to her union, AFSCME 3299.
The Freedom Foundation reports:
“Less than a week later, AFSCME 3299 responded and informed Sarah that the letter she submitted to cancel her union dues did not have ‘sufficient information necessary to verify that these are, in fact, your wishes.’
“The letter instructed Sarah to fill out AFSCME 3299’s own ‘membership cancelation form,’ which requests the same information as the opt-out letter she’d already submitted.”
Yet, the form AFSCME sent only waives her union membership and requires her to indefinitely pay fees that are equal to union dues.
This story from California is one of many stories of unions attempting to subvert the Janus ruling. State legislators and Democrats in Congress have also gotten in on the act to undermine the Janus decision by introducing legislation that eases union organizing campaigns.
There is a better way to reform labor relations without coercing workers into paying for union services they do not want. A policy called “Worker’s Choice” permits individual employees who opt out of union membership can represent themselves with employers. A 2017 NEFW survey finds this policy is popular among union and non-union employees with 77 percent agreeing that workers should represent themselves if they opt out of union membership.
Worker’s choice legislation is a win-win because it resolves unions’ chief complaint with laws that prohibit forced union dues. Unions argue workers who do not pay dues and still represented by a union are “free riders” who receive union services at no cost. Under Worker’s Choice, unions no longer represent workers who do not pay dues.
Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy non-profit group in Washington, D.C.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.